Jim Shea Jr.

Olympic gold medalist Jim Shea Jr. has withdrawn from his Summit County Utah House race, and the big winner may not be the Utah Democratic Party, which challenged his candidacy.

Shea, who was running as a Republican, got out of the race late Wednesday, a day before Lt. Gov. Gary Herbert, as Utah's chief election officer, was scheduled to give a ruling on whether the 2002 skeleton winner met Utah candidate residency requirements by being a state resident for three years.

Earlier in the day, Shea told the Deseret Morning News that should he be disqualified from the 2006 race for House District 53, he would run again in 2008.

Shea's exit actually gives the largest benefit to former Utah House speaker Mel Brown and Dee Putnam, both fellow Republicans. The district has had GOP representatives for years.

Brown, who left the Legislature in 1998 under a cloud of controversy, served his terms as a resident of Midvale.

He moved to Coalville after he left the Legislature and is running from his new residency this year for a seat being vacated by Rep. Dave Ure, R-Kamas.

While many know Putnam, Brown and other candidates in the district, Shea became a household name during the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics, being featured in the opening ceremonies as a third-generation U.S. Olympian and then narrowly winning a gold medal later in the Games.

Utah Democrats claimed Shea voted in the November 2003 elections in Lake Placid, N.Y., where Shea also trained. If so, then Shea was claiming New York residency while he was supposed to be a Utah resident. Shea has been living in Park City for some time, often seen at various Utah events.

Shea said he didn't remember voting in New York, but Democratic Party leaders said they had copies of the voting book that shows Shea's signature, proving he picked up a ballot.

In any case, Shea said Wednesday: "I tried to play by the rules. It's a shame that the (Utah) Democrats are scared chickens," afraid to face Shea in a Utah House election.

"If I can't run this year because of a technicality," said Shea, "I will run next time. I'm just a new guy trying to get involved" in local Utah politics.

Last year, Shea appeared before a Utah House GOP caucus meeting to ask legislators for financial support for various Utah Olympic venues, including the bobsled/skeleton run at Bear Hollow in Summit County.

Shea's exit leaves the House District 53 race to Brown and Putnam, Republicans; Laura Bohnam, Democrat; and Gary Shumway, Libertarian.

E-mail: bbjr@desnews.com